'Stalingrad' Full Of Intimate Realism

Mar 6, 2014

Credit rottentomatoes.com

The first thing to realize about Stalingrad is that it is not the story of the World War II battle that many cite as the beginning of the end for Hitler's Germany. It is the story of a little group of Russians who are defending the city and a little group of Germans who are about to attack it, both of which groups include a woman-- one who is trapped with the Russians and one who is captured by the Germans. And Stalingrad is as much the story of the women as the story of the men.

All of it features a gritty realism, with everything and almost everybody coated with dirt and ashes, the buildings reduced almost to rubble by prebattle bombardments and bombings, supplies even of armaments already running low, and everybody scared and all-but-exhausted, but resolutely dogged in doing their military duty. Except the women, who are pretty much limited to just staying alive under the best circumstances they can manage.

But there's a theme of trying to retain what normalcy can be retained, from military rank and order to personal relations and even proprieties. One of the women, for instance, insists that the soldiers are guests in what remains of her house, almost comically inviting them to stay for a while if they have to. A little party is arranged that could have been sentimental, but is genuinely heroic under the circumstances.

But that's about as heroic as Stalingrad gets. Even the almost inevitable pep talks by the officers are missing, and nobody talks about the Great Causes on either side. There is a lot of violence, but a minimum of emphasis on blood and pain.

Stalingrad is all reality and no Hollywood-- well worth the burden of reading the subtitles.